Tag Archives: residential schools

Truth and Reconciliation Commission: in search of justice and healing

Truth and Reconciliation Commission: a journey in healing

Hello all

This week in Canada was a significant one for First Nations people, the Indigenous people of Canada. It was a week of remembering, making public history and healing. Indeed, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) made public its findings and shared them with all Canadians. But wait what is the TRC you ask? Let’s look at the commission that made public a part of history that most Canadians are not aware of.

Why Truth and Reconciliation?

Hmmmmm why is truth and reconciliation needed? Well, because of centuries of unfairness, of injustice against the Native people of the land, of Turtle Island. What am I talking about? More specifically, I am talking about a part of Canadian (and USA) history that most of us did not learn in school. Residential schools. A part of history that most of us do not know about or do not feel connected to. “I had nothing to do with it”. Well, actually all Canadians had something to do with it. Residential schools (RS) were an government initiative in collaboration with the catholic church to “tame the savages”. An occasion to save the child and kill the indian. An occasion to make every child who attended hate their own culture and language. As well as a place of abuse of every kind.

It is reported that one out of 25 children who went to RS died in RS. Just about the same ratio as Canadian soldiers who died in Word War II. 150 000 children attended RS, hundred of thousands of families saw their kids being taken away in cattle wagons, in trucks, helpless while they drove away. Mothers trying to hide their children without success. Some having attended RS themselves, knowing full well what was to come for their young ones.

Granted there might have been some good intentions behind RS. Some. Such as providing an education to Native children. However, the end result was generations of Native people abused, ridiculed and punished for speaking their language or practicing their traditions. To the point of hating those traditions themselves, to the point of hating being Indian. It is hard to believe that those schools were actually opened until 1996. But it is true. Leaving hundred of thousands of people in need of healing.

TRC logo

Hence the creation of the TRC….

In 2008, the Canadian government made a public apology to First Nations people for the suffering that took place in RS, for an initiative that absolutely and totally failed (my words not theirs). At the same time, the TRC was created. To look into what happened in order to get to the truth. The members of the Commission interviewed thousands of survivors to get their story, to find out what their experience was like. And those stories are forever recorded.

Over the next six years, a series of events took place all over Canada. Truth and Reconciliation weeks all over. Weeks during which survivors got to sit down together to share. Sharing circles. Open to everyone who wanted to support. Not just listen as passive participants, but rather as active listeners, there to support, understand and be there to get to the truth, and continue listening no matter how hard it is to.

truth and reconciliation

I was one of those active participants, who sat and supported in Vancouver, BC in September 2013. It brought tears to my eyes to hear the stories, to hear the numbers the survivors were called while at RS (numbers rather than names were used). Mixed with the smell of smudge, the sound of drums. A place where trauma was discussed but also a place of healing.

Those weeks were just part of the dialogue that took place over the years covering the TRC mandate. A mandate that came to an end this week. An emotional week filled with grief, sadness but also happiness and pride. RS were classified as having been places of “cultural genocide” (that in itself deserves a standing ovation), a place children were sent to lose their identity and culture and at times, die. Many who left their lives in RS were never even identified formally, as they just “disappeared”. How can an apology from the Prime Minister ever be enough?

What is next?native american smudging

What is next is a very long report from the TRC recording all the stories of the survivors they have interviewed. A report containing findings and recommendations for the Canadian government and population. So that healing can take place, so that reconciliation can happen with what happened. So that awareness is increased and so that no one says “I had nothing to do with it” anymore. It’s not about placing the blame on anyone, it’s about reparation, recognition and healing.

What are some of the recommendations? More resources invested in the missing and murdered Aboriginal girls and women of Canada. A commitment to eliminate the over-representation of First Nations People in jails. The creation and funding for new Aboriginal education legislation, closing the gap for Native people. The creation of a commemorative holiday for the survivors of RS. The implementation of health-care rights for Aboriginal people. And so on. Yay, yay and yay! Finally!

I think the TRC opened the Pandora box that was RS. What might have been swept under the rug in the past is now out in the open. And after centuries of abuse being ignored or hidden, it feels good to have things in the open. Does it repair what happened, does it make it okay? Of course not. But it is a beginning. Just a beginning. Recognition that healing is needed. And we all need to participate for that to happen.


Finally, I urge you to look at the TRC website. Many interesting videos to watch. So much to learn on that site.

And a great article for my US friends:


All my Relations


Native American historical trauma

Native American historical trauma: the silent risk factor

Hello all!

Man was it a busy week! But I have been thinking about what I want to discuss throughout the week and I want to share part of the research I did a few years ago in graduate school. I was at the time researching the concept of historical or intergenerational trauma and traditional ways of healing and the practice of native spirituality. Not going to lie it influenced the creation of my site 🙂 Although not an easy topic to discuss, I want to share some data, research and stats with you. Not to worry it won’t be as boring as it sounds! I also want to share my professional experience with you. So let’s get started.

eagle feather

What is intergenerational or historical trauma?

The concept of historical trauma refers to trauma that has been passed down the generations. In other words, what affected our ancestors is affecting us today. How is that possible you ask? Well let’s look at some factors. Research shows (e.g. Duran et al., 2004) that, in North America at least, Aboriginal people are more subject to what is referred to adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect and substance abuse within the household. Therefore, trauma present is carried forward from parents to children and so on.

Moreover, Native people are also faced with additional adult traumas or stressful experiences spiritualitysuch as poverty, unemployment, violence or witnessing violent or traumatic events. What is experienced in childhood has an effect later on. Now adults, the trauma is witnessed by their children, who now live in a traumatic household. Some of you might say or at least think of the usual stereotypes such as “dirty drunk indians” or “they beat their women”, or “they all end up in jail”. But let’s look at it for a different perspective.

The effects of colonization

So yes the stereotypes are there. But let’s ponder the following for a second shall we? The Native Americans’ present situation is in sharp contrast with their situation before the arrival of Europeans explorers in America. Whereas today they present as a population at risk, in the past, before colonization and attempts at assimilation by Europeans, they presented as mostly independent and self-governing nations with their own beliefs and philosophies in regard to cultural, educational, family or economic questions (Bombay, Matheson & Anisman, 2009).


Furthermore, with the establishment of the Indian Act (1876), the lives of Aboriginal peoples were changed drastically. Indeed, the Act not only dictated who was an Indian but also established policies controlling Aboriginal peoples by, for example, outlawing cultural practices and ceremonies as well as rendering Residential schools mandatory and enforcing a forced adoption program (Bombay, Matheson & Anisman, 2009). Moreover, Aboriginal peoples were refused the right to vote for those policies, leaving them powerless as their land, language and culture and ultimately their identity were taken away. 

Hmmmm, puts things into perspective doesn’t it? But wait! That’s not all.

Residential schools and Sixties Scoop

Not surprisingly, although the nature of historical trauma might have varied across communities and was at times unique to certain tribes (there were community effects), a common theme revolves around the colonization period and later on, around the establishment and attendance of residential schools by Aboriginal children throughout Canada and the USA. This was combined with a phenomenon known as the Sixties Scoop (both efforts at assimilation of Aboriginal children). The Sixties Scoop refers to a period during which children were taken forcibly from their families to be adopted by non-Aboriginal families, living sometimes as far as Europe.

Moreover, Residential schools (RS) and their attendance, which existed from 1863 to 1996 and

Apache students before and after Carlisle Residential school

Apache students before and after Carlisle Residential school

were mandated by the Indian Act, were forced upon Aboriginal children in an attempt to acculturate and assimilate them to not only the dominant culture (English Caucasian) but also to the catholic religion. The goal of RS was then two-fold: to separate the children from their families, culture and communities and to assimilate them to the dominant culture. In addition to the trauma of being separated from their families and culture, Residential schools were a place of neglect and abuse for many children who attended them. Any form of cultural identity was suppressed, oftentimes using physical abuse. As it has been notoriously said, the goal was to “kill the Indian in the child” or to “beat the Indian out of the child” (Indigenous Foundations, 2009). Children were taught the English language and to be ashamed of their culture (Bombay et al., 2009).

So not surprisingly….

Those conditions led to difficulty for survivors of RS to develop socialization skills and parenting skills ingrained in their culture of origin, let alone passing them along to the next generation. Therefore, one can consider that those direct effects of the abuse and trauma (psychological) on survivors of RS were passed down to subsequent generations, i.e. to have an intergenerational effect. Indeed, it has been suggested that numerous survivors of RS returned home lacking appropriate social behaviour, as well as presenting with inadequate parenting skills or behaviors modeled after the behaviors of their caregivers while in RS (Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council, 1996). Attendance at RS and abusive experiences encountered while there disrupted the transmission of cultural practices as well as weakened or damaged the parenting skills of survivors, oftentimes resulting in an unhealthy family environment. 

head dress

War Bonnet

So what are we left with?

Well we are left with individuals who are stuck. Stuck in a cycle of abuse, violence and incarceration. In Canada, in British Columbia, where I am, 25-33% of the prison population is Aboriginal, a gross over-representation of the proportion of Aboriginals in the general population (5%). In the Prairies provinces, that number is even more astronomical, up to 75% of the prison population! I mean come on! That does not tell you something? That prison is often used as a method of punishment for Native individuals who are perpetuating a cycle of historical abuse (prison itself perpetuating it). I am not saying that it excuses the individuals’ actions and that jail should never be. jail

But I have worked in jails. If they actually worked as a deterrent, the recidivism rate would not be up to 50%….Without any sort of help with all the issues mentioned above, all the risk factors and the history of abuse, how in the hell is prison going to rehabilitate someone? I am sorry but to break that cycle, to get back to one’s cultural identity, to the ancestral ways of living and healing, it takes a lot of efforts and strength. As it means that one has to let go of what one knows, which has often become comforting, even if maladaptive. It takes courage, a whole redefinition of one’s life and priorities and ways of seeing those around. It means trusting the Elders, letting go of those bringing you down, it means talking about it, sharing one’s story, pain and hurt, to listen to the one of others, it means slowing down, seeing who is there to help and who is not, going back to the traditional values of respect, humility, courage, honesty, generosity, compassion and wisdom. And that is one hell of a hard thing to do…But it can be done. And in a way, it has to be done to work through the effects of colonization.

All my Relations


Native American stereotypes

Native American stereotypes

Hello everyonetepee sunset

Recently, I have been reading about/on stereotypes regarding Native American people. And I find it sad, frustrating and disheartening that those stereotypes still exist. I think they stem from a lack of knowledge. A lack of knowledge of the history of the people, a history that took place right in our backyard. A history, I feel we cannot hide. Through this site, I am trying to share that history, the history of trauma but also the beauty and the healing that is taking place.


What are those stereotypes you ask? Well let’s start with the one of the “drunk indian who cannot hold his liquor”. Well maybe if alcohol, a spirit, had not been introduced on reserves by the Europeans, as a way to steal the land from the native people, the stereotype would not even exist. Alcohol was introduced and given to natives as a trade for furs, tools, land, you name it. They did not know what it was. They were at times rendered drunk during trading with European, affecting their judgment in their trades. They could then easily be influenced. Their body was not accustomed to it.

“Free” life

How about “indians get everything for free”? Well guess what, indians do NOT get everything for free. Land was stolen from them generations ago, they were forced to live on reserves due to unfair treaties, reserves they were not even free to operate and could not leave without permission. The lands they knew as home, lands where they would hunt, fish, get food, were taken, their access being restricted. They could not hunt or fish like before, they needed permission to do so on their own land. And contrary to popular belief, Native people do pay taxes. They earn money and do not get everything for free. They have paid for what they have, with the lost of their land, their rights (some places did not allow Native people to vote until the 1960’s) and their dignity.

eagle feather

Keep wanting more

What about “indians just keep asking and asking and asking, they are greedy”? Well let’s look at it this way. For more than a century, the Native people were not allowed to practice their traditions, for fear of being killed. Their songs, their music, their ceremonies, were banned, being perceived as “evil”. When in fact, they represented the total opposite of “evil”. Traditions, language and ceremonies are a way to honor one’s ancestors and the Creator, to be thankful, mindful, spiritually connected. But out of ignorance, songs and traditional languages were banished.

For more than a century, native children were taken away from their homes, their communities, tepeestripped of their cultural identity and were placed in Indian residential schools, or Indian boarding schools, operated by the church. The goal? “To take the indian out of the child” or more accurately “to beat the indian out of the child”. Children were dressed in a uniform, punished if they spoke their language or practiced their traditions. They were physically, verbally, emotionally and sexually abused. An inordinate amount of children lost their lives while attending residential schools. They returned to their communities in the summer as strangers. They could not relate to their parents anymore nor could their parents relate to them. Villages without any kids for months at a time. Can you imagine how traumatizing it must have been for families?

Substance abuse

Yes it is true that the Native American population has a higher incidence of substance abuse. Considering what I just said about alcohol as well as the history of trauma in families, is it really surprising? Children were taken away, parents robbed of the chance to be parents, children were scarred for life, families were split apart, abuse of any type was rampant and rights were restricted. Parents were then seen as being unfit and children were taken away by the government, placing them in foster families. In an event referred to as the “Sixties Scoop”, Canadian Aboriginal children were literally “scooped” from their families to be placed either in residential schools, in Caucasian Canadian families or placed for adoption in the United States or Western Europe. An estimated 20 000 children were “scooped” over a period of 20 years. The goal? Cultural assimilation. The result? Intergenerational trauma. For all members of the family, the tribe, the nation. Trauma, including repeating the abuse suffered in residential school, was passed down from generation to generation with no coping skills. A higher incidence of missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada, a high incidence of native people in our prison system. 

It is said that what we do affect the next seven generations. But it goes both ways, i.e. positive eagleschanges can also affect the next seven generations. I think we are starting to see positive changes. By going back to the traditional ways, to the Red Road principles. By living a honest and simple life. But I get frustrated when I hear some say about native people “why don’t they just get over it”? Would you say that to a Jewish person whose family had died at Auschwitz? I did not think so.

Take the time to watch the video below addressing stereotypes about Native people. Very powerful


Mitakuye Oyasin